Last week Ramsgate Labour Party’s candidates for the forthcoming Kent County Council elections, Karen Constantine and Raushan Ara and their election agent Kaz Peet, were exposed by the BBC, The Daily Mail and the Thanet Extra for trying to sell off Lush cosmetics intended for homeless and deprived people, to raise funds for their election campaign. Not only were their actions morally and ethically repugnant, but it’s now emerged that Constantine and Peet, might also have tried to mislead the public about the purpose of their Lush sale at the Churchill Tavern on 18th February.
In an interview on BBC Newsroom Southeast tonight a woman who was working at the Churchill Tavern on the day of the Lush sale, Natalie Garrett, said that she was asked by Constantine to make a large display sign advertising the sale of the Lush products and to include on the sign a message saying that they were being sold for charity. Here’s a picture of the advertising sign which Natalie Garrett made and which was prominently displayed on the day of the Lush sale .
Whilst requesting Ms Garrett to make the sign advising passers-by and Churchill Tavern customers that the Lush sale was for charitable purposes, Constantine and her agent Kaz Peet were simultaneously posting messages on Facebook aimed at their Labour Party colleagues and friends, saying that all proceeds from the Lush sale would be going to the Labour Party. Here’s some Facebook screen shots dated the 18 February which support my claim.
Ms Garret says that some of her friends and family were misled into buying the Lush products because they believed they were being sold to help charities. Had it been made clear to them that the products were being sold to raise funds for the Ramsgate Labour Party’s campaign to elect Constantine and Ara to Kent County Council then, Ms Garrett, said it was unlikely that they would have bought them. Ms Garrett’s claim of deceit about the real intention of the sale in the Churchill Tavern is supported by a Facebook post made last week. I’ve edited out the name of the poster, but it would appear that some people were led to believe that the sale of the Lush products was for charitable purposes and not for Ramsgate Labour Party’s campaign to get Constantine and Ara elected to Kent County Council.
So what we appear to have here is an appallingly unethical effort by Labour candidates Constantine and Ara and election agent Peet to sell off charitable donations, intended for homeless and deprived people, to raise funds for their election campaign, whilst at the same time allegedly deceiving passers-by and customers of the Churchill Tavern that the proceeds of the sale would go to charity not to the Labour Party. If this is true it’s an utterly despicable and dishonest way to raise funds for an election campaign.
There is no excuse for election candidates to behave in this way, especially experienced candidates like Constantine, who also claims to be a magistrate. No amount of apologies can excuse what seems to have been a deliberate effort to deceive and mislead the public about the real intention of the Lush sale at the Churchill Tavern on 18 February. It was not until 20th February - 2 days after the Lush sale, and after she and Constantine had been contacted by a journalist from the national press, that Kaz Peet announced that the proceeds from the Lush sale would be donated to local charities. Until then everyone involved, apart from hoodwinked customers of the Churchill Tavern, clearly understood that the cash was destined for Constantine and Ara’s election campaign.
Writing today on the Kent Online website political correspondent Paul Francis says that at a meeting of the Ramsgate Labour Party held last Friday, Constantine gave an account of the Lushgate scandal and reiterated her apology. Party members accepted her explanation of the events and voted to take no further action. I wonder if Constantine included in her explanation of events any reference to allegedly having misled and deceived the customers of the Churchill Tavern about the destination of the cash raised by the Lush sale on 18th February. I wonder if she had done so, whether her Labour Party colleagues would have been prepared to accept her explanation and agree to take no further action?
Paul Francis goes on to say that the line has not been finally drawn under what appears to be an appalling example of election fundraising abuse. He says that regional and county Labour Party officials are examining the Lushgate events. I wonder whether or not the regional and county officials will do what in my opinion is clearly necessary – to force Constantine, Ara and Peet to stand down as elections candidates/ agents. I’m not holding breath.
Constantine is employed as a paid official of the GMB trade union which has a lot influence in the Labour Party. She is also very influential in south east region Labour Party politics being a regional board member and a national policy forum member for Labour’s south east region. I’m sure that because she is so high profile in south east Labour she is very likely to be treated with kid- gloves. But then I’d like to believe that south east Labour is not so morally and ethically bankrupt that it would tolerate as members and occupiers of senior positions, people who appear to have hijacked charitable donations, sold them off to fund their political careers, and deceived many of the customers at the sale about where the cash was going. Surely the south east region of the Labour Party could never endorse such alleged actions? What would Jeremy Corbyn say if they did?
Here's the BBC report. I'd like to pay tribute to Natalie Garrett for being so brave to speak out. Unlike others I could mention she is a woman of integrity and principle.